66 cases alleging that acetaminophen can cause autism in children if the mother takes it while pregnant have been consolidated and moved to multidistrict litigation. The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation made the ruling over the objections of retailers of the drug who did not support the move. A lawyer for the plaintiffs praised the panel’s action saying that “we are pleased the Judicial Panel granted our motion to consolidate the cases over the defendants’ objections, and look forward to beginning work on this very important litigation that affected women and their autistic children across our nation.”
The lawsuits claim that acetaminophen taken by pregnant mothers can cause changes in fetal development that can lead to autism once the child is born. Mothers have been advised to take acetaminophen for common aches and pains during pregnancy in the past as other pain relievers such as aspirin or ibuprofen can cause damage to a developing fetus’s organs.
Plaintiffs have filed suit against a number of retailers who sell acetaminophen including CVS, Rite Aid, Safeway, Target, and Walgreens. Absent from the lawsuit, however, are any companies who manufacture the medication. The plaintiffs allege that the duty to notify pregnant mothers of the dangers of the medication fell on the retailers who sold it. Defendants in the case noted the absence of the manufacturers in their objection to the consolidation, calling the exclusion “conspicuous.”
Studies seem to support the plaintiffs’ claims, although data around dosage and exposure times vary. Some studies on the topic seem to support a link between long-term use of acetaminophen during pregnancy and neurological disorders, however a short-term usage link has been harder to establish.
The panel based its decision to consolidate the cases on the grounds that all of them involved the same questions such as whether retailers knew or should have known that they were selling a product that could do harm, whether they notified customers of that risk, and whether or not acetaminophen actually does cause autism or other neurological disorders in children when taken by their pregnant mothers.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs expect the MDL to grow into the tens or hundreds of thousands of plaintiffs over time.